Immensely satisfying and engrossing from start to finish.
There are so many great things in Dust: An Elysian Tail that deciding where to begin made my head hurt. The downloadable scene has certainly had some stand out titles since it began and Dust effortlessly earns its place among (if not above) every single one of them.
The core mechanics that make up Dust are probably things you’ve experienced before, 2D side scrolling setup with hack n’ slash gameplay, light RPG style levelling and customisation in the form of loot and gear you find throughout the game. To say that Dust delivers an experience more than the sum of its parts would be a major understatement, Dust doesn’t feel like a scaled down version of a retail game made to fit the download space in any way, shape or form.
While the story, art and characters are all truly fantastic in Dust, I really have to start by talking about the gameplay. I was not expecting the combat system to be anywhere near the quality that it is, usually RPG’s are hampered by unresponsive or sluggish (and in some cases downright bad) controls and playing the game wouldn’t be all that fun if it didn’t have all the other hooks. Dust does not have this problem in the slightest, while the combat isn’t especially challenging, the Ninja Gaiden level of responsiveness and fidelity the controls have along with the freedom in which you can combine your various abilities ensure that is stays enjoyable one hundred percent of the time.
Dust has what is usually considered a two button combat system, X for light attacks and Y for power attacks combined with a counter attack system, which is simply done by timing a parry which gives you a much more powerful counter attack and stuns your enemy. The most direct comparison for how it feels would be Devil May Cry at about three times the speed, if you’ve ever wondered what a 2D Devil May Cry game would be like combat-wise, Dust pretty much is that. Along with your basic sword attacks you also have the abilities of your sidekick Fidget, her attacks by themselves aren’t anything to shout about it, but combine them with your Dust storm ability and you can launch entire areas of enemies air-born and lay waste to them with aerial combos. Even though you only have one weapon throughout the game, the variations of Fidgets powers combined with a great variety of enemy designs keeps the combat fresh and exhilarating every single time.
Describing the story of Dust without spoiling large parts of it would be impossible, even mentioning the name of the protagonist. That being said, there is a decent tale being told here, and one that goes to great lengths to set itself apart from what you have come to expect from a game that presents itself in the way Dust does. The game has no shortage of characters, but only a handful are actually integral to the plot, most of them are just there to fill the side mission giver role and their voice and dialogue sometimes reflect that. There’s some really great humour to be found in the games writing, most of it comes from the dialogue between the main character and Fidget and it’s something I don’t want to spoil here, rest assured, if you enjoy a well told story in a game, Dust will not leave you disappointed. One thing I can mention is the jaw-dropping art design and presentation of Dust, everything in this game looks absolutely gorgeous and gives you ample reason to explore to see the varying environmental designs.
The structure of Dust easily falls under the metroidvania umbrella; the game is broken up into individual areas all of which contain secrets and alternate paths that are locked because you haven’t found the upgrade required to access that area yet. One of the really great things is the amount of freedom you are given when it comes to completing objectives. You’ll obtain side quests by talking to the various people of the areas you visit and all these are kept track of in your quest log with frequent updates telling what you need to do and where you need to do it and the main quest line is a single persistent quest with altering objectives and it’s left entirely to you in which order you go about doing any of them. This set up really avoids any confusion and really makes everything you do feel connected rather than feeling like you’re abandoning the main quest to do other things at random.
Like any good RPG, Dust has an intricate levelling and loot system that really lets you customise yourself to how you want to play the game. As you defeat enemies and take on quests you will gain experience that can be used to level up your four main abilities which are health, damage, defence and the potency of Fidgets attacks. This system is tiered so that you can’t go beyond 4 upgrades beyond another ability in a single skill, while I did feel this restricted me early on as I didn’t feel the need to upgrade the damage I dealt, as the game progresses it does a good job of keeping you balanced and not running into problems because you min/maxed too much in certain areas.
As you explore the world and defeat enemies you will gather loot and gear for yourself. Your gear is split across five items which you can equip that will alter various properties depending on what they are. Some give simple damage boots and increase the amount of gold the enemies will drop, while others will have more obscure effects like giving off light in dark areas. The crafting system is most likely where you will obtain the most effective gear from, everything you collect will have some use for any number of the various blue prints you will find. I found myself constantly building and swapping out gear to try out the effects of different bonuses, and it wasn’t until quite near the end of the game that I had the perfect mix for my play style, which kept the system from ever feeling redundant. One negative aspect of the crafting system is that you can easily miss obtaining the ability to build items straight from your inventory, otherwise you have to travel back the single blacksmith in the game in order to build something.
While I would certainly argue that Dust is easily one of the best games that the downloadable service has provided, I really don’t believe that any kind of qualifier is necessary in order to justify the sheer level of praise that Dust deserves. It’s one of those few games that really has everything, from the truly beautiful art style, the amazing combat system and an intriguing story there isn’t any feeling of compromise of any level whatsoever. Dust: An Elysian Tail is an incredibly satisfying and engrossing experience from beginning to end and one that nobody should miss the joy of playing.